Zero Tolerance…we hear it more and more within our schools. Today, it is that all important document that sets the standard of behavior in schools, elementary to high school. Items that we, as children would never think to take to school, are now listed for parents along with the yearly supply list. Bring it to school and you are out! Sadly, due to so many disturbing violent events in our schools, it is a necessity and just can’t be avoided. My purpose is not to preach on school violence but to let you in on a wonderful new book on this very topic.
Claudia Mills has brought to life the issue of zero tolerance in schools in her new book, Zero Tolerance. She has taken a policy issue in a middle school setting and instead of using the “bad kid” or “bad boy” shifted the focus to a straight A, quiet, well-liked, talented, student leader that is female. Mills lets us, the reader, in on just what happens when adults look only at the rules and not the whole of the situation. It is perfectly executed in this readers opinion. I know I said this is a children’s book and I would recommend it for 5th grade and up. This book needs a reader that can really understand what the characters are facing and can read deeply enough into the text to connect with the characters…they need a little life experience to do that. I always say, “just because you can read the words, doesn’t mean that you can understand the meaning behind them.”
The book opens with seventh grader Sierra Shepard in the office talking to the principal, Mr. Besser, about a new program to help all students keep up with their school work. Of course, she is well received by the principal and school secretary…she is the perfect student! While she is sitting in the office she sees Luke Bishop brought in for fighting. Luke is the “bad boy” that we all knew and saw at our own school. He makes Sierra uncomfortable, but not because he is in trouble all the time but because she doesn’t understand why he is always in trouble. To Sierra adults are to be respected and never second guessed. After she leaves the office Sierra goes to lunch with her friends and this is where her trouble begins. As Sierra opens her lunch bag she realizes that she took her mother’s lunch by mistake. She dumps the entire contents of the bag on the lunch table and BOOM…a paring knife falls out!
“Sierra stared at the paring knife as if a coiled serpent had appeared from her mother’s lunch bag, poised and ready to spring.” pg 11, Zero Tolerance
Immediately, Sierra must make a decision…turn in the knife or put it back in the bag and forget all about it. I can tell you that she does the right thing and turns it into the adults. Those same adults whom she has always trusted to help her. Could this be a mistake? Things do not go well for Sierra from this point on. She sees a side of “school justice” that she never realized existed. She is thrown into a whirlwind of broken rules, arguments, and a media storm. This is a huge wake-up call for Sierra! She starts to see everyone in her life in a whole new way…her parents, Mr. Besser (the principal), Ms. Lin (secretary), Luke Bishop and most of all herself. This story is about more than a school policy, but about true justice and how far we would go to get it.
I wish I could have this book in my school library, but my kids are just too young. I will however recommend it to all the teachers and parents of older kids. But even if you don’t have kids, READ this book! It is very very good!